Giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus)

French: Tatou Géant
Spanish: Armadillo Gigante, Carachupa Manan, Cuspon, Tatú Carreta, Tatú Guazú
GenusPriodontes (1)
SizeHead-body length: 75 - 100 cm (2)
Weight18.7 - 32.5 kg (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

Armadillos are one of the oldest groups of mammals and have a quirky appearance, possessing a tough shell composed of bony plates in the dermis covered by horny scales(4). The giant armadillo is the largest living species of this group, and has 11 to 13 hinged bands protecting the body, and a further three or four on the neck (5). Its body is dark brown in colour, with a lighter, yellowish band running along the sides, and a pale, yellow-white head. These armadillos have around 80 to 100 teeth, which is more than any other mammal. They also possess extremely long front claws (4), including a sickle-shaped 3rd claw (6).

Found east of the Andes in South America, from north Venezuela and the Guianas, to Paraquay and north Argentina (4).

Inhabits undisturbed forests near to water sources, but may also be found in nearby grasslands and bushlands (6).

Armadillos have not been extensively studied in the wild and therefore little is known about their natural ecology and behaviour. Giant armadillos are fairly solitary and nocturnal, spending the day in burrows (5). They also burrow to escape predators, being unable to completely roll into a protective ball (2). Giant armadillos use their large front claws to dig for prey and rip open termite mounds. The diet is mainly composed of termites, although ants, worms, spiders and other invertebrates are also eaten (5). Little is currently known about this species reproductive biology, and no juveniles have ever been discovered in the field (7).

Hunted throughout its range, a single giant armadillo supplies a great deal of meat, and is the primary source of protein for some indigenous peoples. In addition, live giant armadillos are frequently captured for trade on the black market, and invariably die during transportation or in captivity (8). Despite this species’ wide range, it is locally rare, and is likely to be significantly impacted by the exploitation that is occurring. This is further exacerbated by habitat loss resulting from deforestation (1) (8). Current estimates indicate that the giant armadillo may have undergone a worrying population decline of 30 to 50 percent over the past three decades. Without intervention, this trend is likely to continue (8).

The giant armadillo is protected by law in Colombia, Guyana, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Suriname and Peru (9) (10) and international trade is banned by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (8). However, hunting for food and sale in the black market continues to occur throughout its entire range (8). Some populations occur within protected reserves, including the Parque das Emas in Brazil (11), and the Central Suriname Nature Reserve, a massive 1.6 million hectare site of pristine rainforest managed by Conservation International (12). Such protection helps to some degree to mitigate the threat of habitat loss, but targeted conservation action is required to prevent the further decline of this fascinating species.

Authenticated (04/09/2009) by Dr. Mariella Superina, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Anteaters, Sloths and Armadillos Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2008)
  2. Armadillo Online (July, 2002)
  3. CITES (June, 2008)
  4. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  6. Eisenberg, J. and Redford, K. (1999) Mammals of the Neotropics: The Central Neotripics. Vol. 3: Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil. University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.
  7. Meritt, D.A. (2006) Research Questions on the Behavior and Ecology of the Giant Armadillo (Priodontes maximus). Edentata, 7: 30 - 33.
  8. Aguiar, J.M. (2004) Species Summaries and Species Discussions. Edentata, 6: 3 - 26.
  9. Superina, M. (2000) Biologie und Haltung von Gürteltieren (Dasypodidae). [Biology and maintenance of armadillos (Dasypodidae)]. Doctoral Thesis. Institut für Zoo-, Heim- und Wildtiere, Universität Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland.
  10. Ecolex - Environmental Law Information (July, 2002)
  11. Center for Conservation Biology – University of Washington (June, 2008)
  12. Conservation International (June, 2008)